German soccer attracts 39 suitors

League offers 37 rights packages in auction

BERLIN — With a crowd of media players signed up to take part in the auction for Bundesliga soccer rights, the German Football League (DFL) is hoping to shake up the field.

The org said Friday that 39 interested parties had registered to bid for 37 different rights packages for top league national soccer.

While the DFL declined to name any of the bidders, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which controls Germany pay TV operator Premiere, Disney’s ESPN and German pubcaster ARD are said to be in the mix.

The DFL is looking to at least match the Euros 409 million ($526 million) per season it currently makes from media rights. The 37 rights packages on offer include 27 bundles for TV (including cable, satellite and cable and satellite combinations), three for IPTV, four for web TV and three for mobile services.

Murdoch is expected to make an offer for pay and free TV rights, and possibly seek to sub-license the latter to a commercial web like Sat. 1. Such a scenario could derail ARD’s chances of landing free TV rights.

ARD chairman Fritz Raff has warned that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for pubcasters to keep up in the bidding for sports rights, especially in view of greater competition from major players.

Raff said ARD remained very interested in acquiring free TV rights for its Saturday evening sports summary show, but stressed that “We mustn’t fool ourselves. When the big players come, there will also be limits for license fee-financed broadcasters.”

The current bidding process follows a failed attempt by the DFL to partner with media mogul Leo Kirch in an exclusive deal that would have allowed Kirch’s Sirius SportMedia to produce and market Bundesliga programming packages. The agreement called for ARD to push back its Saturday evening sports wrap show to a later timeslot, allowing Sirius to offer pay TV more exclusivity and charge higher prices.

In a controversial move, Germany’s antitrust watchdog torpedoed the deal, saying viewers had the right to a free TV summary without being forced into buying pay TV.

The DFL’s current plan now calls for a Saturday night match, effectively making ARD’s early evening wrap irrelevant, as well as more flexible free TV offers, allowing commercial channels the opportunity to bid against the pubcasters.

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